Complaints about public services

The Ombudsman’s first role is to investigate complaints about public services.  In addition to general enquiries, during 2021/22, the office received 2,726 complaints about public services – 45% more than last year and 22% more than in 2019/20.  Whilst the office received more complaints about Health Boards, there were significant increases in complaints about local authorities and Housing Associations.

During the year, the Ombudsman closed a record number of complaints about public services.  It found that something had gone wrong and intervened in 18% of those cases – a slightly lower proportion than the previous two years (20%).  Mostly, the Ombudsman intervened by proposing Early Resolution, to deliver justice quickly without the need for a full investigation.  However, 31% of the interventions followed a full investigation – the office upheld or partially upheld 77% of all the investigations that it closed.

In addition, this year the Ombudsman issued 7 public interest reports on some of the most serious complaints about public services and launched new guidance and tools to share the findings of the office and support wider learning.

Complaints about the Code of Conduct

The Ombudsman’s is also responsible for investigating complaints about local councillors breaching the Code of Conduct.  During 2021/22, it received 294 such complaints.  This was fewer than last year, but 27% more than in the year before that.  58% of those complaints were about councillors at Town and Community Councils, and just over a half were about how councillors promoted equality and respect.

The office does not make final findings about breaches of the Code of Conduct.  Instead, where investigations find the most serious concerns, these are referred to the Standards Committee of the relevant local authority, or the Adjudication Panel for Wales.  In 2021/22, the Ombudsman made 20 such referrals – 100% more than in the previous year and the highest number of referrals since 2012/13.

Improvement work

The Ombudsman’s has an important role to drive public services improvement.  Despite the pressures on the office due to the significant increase in caseload, this improvement work continued during the year.

In total 39 public bodies now comply with the Complaints Standards set out by the Ombudsman including all local authorities and health boards in Wales.

The office can also investigate on the Ombudsman’s own initiative (without having received a complaint) and, in 2021/22, it published the results of the first own initiative investigation, into homelessness assessments by local councils.

2021/22 was the final year of Nick Bennett’s term of office as Ombudsman, a position he held since 2014.  The office welcomed Michelle Morris as Ombudsman from April 2022. 

Commenting on the report, Michelle said:

“As I start my term as Ombudsman, I would like to pay tribute to Nick Bennett, my predecessor, and to the staff in the office for their hard work in continuing to deliver services through what has undoubtedly been the most challenging couple of years for the public sector in Wales.

Our public services continue to work under considerable pressure.  They have continued to work with us to ensure that we can properly deal with issues when they go wrong and that we all learn lessons from that experience.  We will continue to work with them to make sure that they emerge stronger post-pandemic and that service users continue to receive proper redress when things go wrong.”

Click here to read the full report and the Executive Summary.

Click here to watch our video Our Annual Report in 7 minutes.